Robin Valk – the unsung hero

Dave Woodhall pays tribute to the legendary broadcaster.

Robin Valk, who died recently, was the man who introduced a generation of us in this region to some wonderful music. At first glance he might not have seemed a particularly innovative broadaster – the long hair, flares and droopy moustache indicated the sort of rock jock who ignored everything that came after 1975. Indeed, there was a twice-yearly Rock 100 dominated by what his listeners would have called Led Zep, the Floyd and Genesis, but Robin was much more than that. He described Stiff Little Fingers’ Alternative Ulster as the most important record for years and gave a first airing to local band UB40’s debut single. This was back in the days when local radio had both a vision and the budget to see it through; the UBs, Ruby Turner, Fashion and many other local bands did sessions for Robin’s late-night show on BRMB.

Robin had been with the Aston-based station from their launch in February 1974, and within months was dealing with the biggest story of his broadcasting career. On the night of 21st November 1974 Robin was, in his own words, working through an uneventful evening shift when the station’s switchboard bgan to light up. Schedules were scrapped as the city began to learn of the full horror of the pub bombings and in those days before social media and rolling news channels BRMB was the only way people could hear the story as it unfolded.

On a happier note, Robin’s show became essential listening for anyone interested in the local music scene. Apart from those legendary sessions he was an invaluable source of gig information and the station promoted the annual Lark in the Park which featured such local heroes as the Specials, Steerl Pulse, Steve Gibbons and Joan Armatrading.

As times changed Robin moved from presenting to producing, spending many years with the BBC at Pebble Mill. He then moved into database and production consultancy. While many of his contemporaries were relegated to the nostalgia stations and bemoaned their subsequent lack of audience, Robin continued to move with the times. His Radio To Go blog and Lives in Music podcasts showcased trends in local music and reflected the region’s heritage while he was a major influence on local digital station Brum Radio, always as enthusiastic as he’d ever been. As presenter Adrian Goldberg, perhaps the modern-day Robin in terms of how he promotes the Midlands music scene, said, “In later years, he was always a generous sounding board who cared deeply about the ideal of properly local radio and was always willing to pass on his experience and wisdom.”

With local radio now dominated by a handful of bland, multi-national organisations, there will never be another station like the original BRMB. And sadly there won’t be any more broadcasters like Robin Valk.